And this, my friends, is it. Last weekend we officially opened the doors to Five & 1/4, our brand new weekly pop-up wine bar. And it was such a success! All our hard work and worry and turmoil and set-backs and plans and failed plans and new plans and so many long nights, early mornings, and man, the frigging stress! But we did it. It’s open, and it’s beautiful, and people loved it!
^^ Well that one right there? He’s a pretty amazing man. And just under a year ago, he opened his first small business, Still – Elevate Your Ethanol (can you guys believe it’s been almost a year already??!) And Still is located in this amazing old building built in 1925, that takes up an entire corner of a city block in downtown Santa Barbara.
And around the corner, in the same building, is a little French creperie called Pacific Crepes. So when Jeremy began renovating the space for Still, everyone from the building came by to introduce themselves. Including Yvan, the owner of Pacific Crepes. And over the weeks and months since then, Yvan and Jeremy have formed a real friendship.
So anyway, Yvan and Jeremy had talked about doing a wine thing together, like a wine night or special events or something like that, but it never really moved beyond the brainstorming stage. And then one day, late last spring, Yvan showed up on the stoop at Still.
“I’ve made a decision!” (you have to imagine his heavy French accent)
“I’ve decided to close my restaurant at 3 from now on!”
And Jeremy was super stoked for him. “Yvan, that’s awesome! You’ll have evenings with your kid, and most people want crepes for breakfast and lunch anyways – that’s a fantastic decision.”
And then Yvan said: “So, I’m giving you my restaurant.”
Essentially, Yvan has been doing the same thing for 18 years and he’s burnt out. He has a 4-year-old at home and he wants more time for himself and his family. And he makes enough during breakfast and lunch to afford the space. So, he was proposing to close every day at 3, and after that we would be free to use the restaurant in whatever way we wanted. As much or as little as we chose.
In the immortal words of this Frenchman: “I don’t give a fuck. I just want it to be clean for me in the morning. Otherwise, I don’t want to think about it at all.”
Yvan’s incredible generosity is actually an increasing modern phenomenon. “Shared space” businesses are on the rise – a direct result, I assume, of this dismal economy. And actually, the first time I ever went to Portland’s now-elite vegan hot spot, Portobello, it was tucked inside a tiny coffee shop, operating after hours! Almost the exact same situation that we currently find ourselves in.
So anyway, once we had the offer we were off and running. There was never any question as to what our concept would be — we knew exactly what we needed to do because there is a glaring, gaping hole in the Santa Barbara wine scene.
SB is a tourist destination. It’s wine country. And that’s what draws a lot of the tourism . . . which means that almost every single glass of wine you can buy in Santa Barbara is a central coast wine. Period.
Which is great for the tourists — but a little monotonous for the folks who actually live here.
And the interesting stuff – the “old world” style, more rustic, more geeky stuff that Jeremy and I both prefer – well in order to get a pour of that in Santa Barbara, you’re spending upwards of $17-25 a glass. So, ya know, cost-prohibitive.
But that’s where our uniquely modern share-space situation is really an advantage. Because we have almost ZERO startup cost. The kitchen is there. The liqueur license is there. The tables and the silverware and the building and the kitschy art on the walls — it all already exists. And since our business model is so different from the standard in this way, it means we’re able to offer our wines at much lower margins.
Wine for the people!
And that’s what we want. We want everyone to be able to drink a really, really exciting glass of wine, without spending a small fortune. We want to honor all the wonder and fun and sensuality of wine, but leave behind all of the pomp and circumstance. So that’s what we’re doing.
Have you ever had wine from Lebanon? Or a Carricante from the northern base of Mount Etna, where the soil is so full of volcanic minerals that the wine tastes like salt and ore? Like a salty lemon delight?
And we have a Soave that smells and tastes like a tropical fruit salad. It’s bone dry, no sweetness at all, but it literally tastes like passionfruit and papaya in your mouth. I call it the “happy wine” because it just makes me smile when I drink it.
And the Susumaniello! Our most popular red from our opening weekend, it’s so rare that in all of his 15 years in the wine world, Jeremy had never tasted a Susumaniello until he sampled it for Five & 1/4 (all the wine reps love us because they’re finally getting to open all those bottles they’ve never been asked to open before). Our Susumaniello strikes that perfect balance between musty barnyard and ripe red fruit, and it’s my absolute favorite red that we sell.
And the “Five & 1/4″ is for Waits, of course. We were trying to come up with a name for the project, and everything wine related – “Trellis”, “Vine”, etc – was UGH so played out and pretentious sounding. So we just thought, what if we name it something totally random and unrelated? We toyed around with calling it “Dime” (for no particular reason), and then someone asked Waits how old he was and he answered, “Im five and a quarter!” (that quarter is SO important, you know), and Jeremy turned to me and said “I think we should call it Five & 1/4″
And that was that.
And it kind of turned into a theme. We open at 5:15. And our list will always include one white and one red which will sell for $5.25 per glass (I told you, we mean business about keeping our prices affordable), and they won’t be crap “house wines” either. We work hard, search high and low, to find those rare gem value wines.
Our liqueur license requires us to serve food as well, so we do. Small plates, entirely plant-based (although it’s kept a secret for now, and we chose “accidentally vegan” dishes that wouldn’t raise any suspicions). This has actually been the hardest part of the whole venture, since it’s just Jeremy and I. No kitchen staff, no prep line, no nothing. We had to get real creative.
We’re starting small, with 8 whites, 8 reds, 1 bubbly, and 5 little nibblies to choose from. But we have lots of plans to expand. This is only the beginning!
I wish I’d taken more pictures of the space, and the food, and the wine, but well – it was a busy weekend. I’m sure I’ll have more to share soon, since this is sort of my life from now into the indeterminate future.
Five & 1/4 is open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5:15 – 10(ish). Maybe some day I’ll see you there?
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